Windborn Musings – Best Player Syndrome, When the BP is not the BP, Part 1

The Best Player Syndrome has been making whiny Magic players feel better about themselves for more than ten years.  It is time to debunk that myth.

Razjah made a comment at the end of Graveborn Muse’s article about the Top 10 multiplayer theory articles.  Rather than send you to the comment, I thought I’d bring the comment to you:

I would love to see someone address the BPS (Best Player Syndrome). I am my group’s best player. I have the most decks, been playing the longest, and win the most. Actually, due to the increasing number of new players, I have been doing even better than previous years. But I am always The Threat. Once I topdecked an Exsanguinate to come back from a game and now I can never be left alone even when I am the only player with the answers to the table’s current threat.

This is made worse by my group’s size. We often have 16 people and 12 at the minimum each week. To combat the large groups and the mismatched skills we randomize who sits at each table. Now the new players don’t believe me about playing a weak deck and to have a chance I always need to play a strong deck.

Graveborn Muse and I were both excited to discuss BPS, so we have put together  “point/counterpoint” articles.  Expect to see Graveborn Muse use illogical reasoning and emotional pleas as a way to try to counter my unassailable logic! 

Defining BPS

Abe Sargent first coined the term Best Player Syndrome in a September 20, 2004 article on StarCitygames.  As he described it, someone suffering from BPS has three symptoms:

1.  Everyone expects the Best Player to have answers to any situation.  This is hardly surprising.  The Best Player wins regularly, and in such a fashion that everyone remembers the wins.  The Best Player plays decks that have answers to what everyone else does and uses those answers to get wins.  This leads everyone to expect the Best Player to have the answers since he always seems to have the answers to win games. 

2.  Killing the Best Player is a point of pride amongst the Best Player’s playgroup.  Since killing this player is far more difficult than killing any other player, it is not surprising that other players treat it as a feather in their cap when they can take down the Best Player. 

3.  The Best Player never gets a break.  When the Best Player shows any signs of weakness, everyone is all over him. 

Limitations of Definition

Use of the term “Best Player”

My problem with the definition of BPS is that the definition was produced by someone who believes they are the best player in their group.  There is no impartial perspective. 

Side note:  When I capitalize Best Player, I am referring to the Best Player as defined by the BPS.  When I don’t capitalize best player, I am referring to the actual best player

Abe believed that he was the best player in his group because his playstyle dominated his playgroup, winning him several games. I can’t speak for Abe’s group.  I don’t know if Abe was truly the best player in his group or simply the Best Player.  What I can say is that the two descriptions are not the same. 

I define the best player in the group a little differently.  The best player in a group is the player that wins the most often over an extended period of time.  The Best Player can be the best player, but the best player is not necessarily the Best Player.[i]  Let me give an example to try to clear this up. 

Consider Daryl.[ii]  He plays multiplayer every week with a group of four to seven guys and wins two or three games out of the five games that get played in a night.  Daryl’s decks are loaded with Pernicious Deeds and various Titans.  The decks smash everyone on the table for ridiculous amounts of damage.  It is only due to the concerted effort of everyone he is playing against, that he loses.  This goes on for a couple more weeks, until every week when Daryl shows up, he is immediately attacked before he can even get anything going, leaving him to win only sporadically. Daryl is the group’s Best Player. 

Consider Bruce.  He plays in that same group.  He manages to get a win or two every week.  His decks have some utility creatures and interesting plays, but he rarely plays anything as splashy as Daryl.  His play during the games is generally animated and he laughs and chats with his friends and has a good time, just like Daryl and everyone else in the group.  His board position is rarely ever wide open, and rarely is he considered The Threat.  Daryl is usually The Threat.  Bruce rallies the troops and works with everyone else to bring Daryl down, usually at just the moment that Bruce is able to swoop in for the victory.  Bruce is the group’s best player.

Abe, as a proactive player defined the Best Player as the most powerful proactive player in a group that has a slight power imbalance.  Abe saw no value in reactive play, and thus never considered a reactive player who wins games that no one even notices, as a Best Player.  This produced his biased definition of Best Player. 

A year later Abe wrote another BPS article.  In it he recognized the problem in being the Best Player, without realizing his bias:

The Best Player must always be prepared for people to attack the Best Player, despite a board condition or deck choice that would suggest other targets are more appropriate… When the Best Player sits down to play at a multiplayer table, that player must be prepared to defeat the entire table, single-handedly.

The Best Player eliminates his ability to use the best resource at the table:  the other people playing!  This doesn’t necessarily make you the best player, but you likely have the biggest ego.

Best Player is needed to keep games going

Abe’s other comment made the ego issues involved in defining the Best Player clear to me:

…I learned that it is incumbent upon me as the Best Player to winnow the chaff. I have to play a decent deck designed to kill people and keep the game moving, or else the game stagnates and it takes four hours to play. It wasn’t even a four hour Epic Struggle, it was an anticlimactic life-gaining, card-drawing fest. I am the grim-reaper of the table.

For I have learned that the most important aspect of the Best Player Syndrome is the responsibility that I have to take on in order to further the group itself. I have to provide a foil and a reason to keep playing.

After all, somebody has to be the Best Player.

A dominant proactive player is not required for interesting multiplayer games, in spite of Abe’s belief.  My current playgroup is a case in point.  We have some stronger players, some weaker players, some reactive players and some proactive players.  This mix has produced Magic nights that are generally interesting and games that are involved and fun.

The idea that “somebody has to be the Best Player,” is simply the Best Player patting themselves on the back and pretending they are essential to the group.  They are not essential to the group; they are chosen by default.  If there is one player who has a ton of cards and crazy over the top explosive decks, who plays a proactive style, they are the Best Player.  If that person leaves, either the next most proactive player with explosive decks becomes the BP or the group reaches a level where there is equality in the group.

(Avoid) Becoming the Best Player

So how do you avoid becoming the Best Player?  If you read last week’s article, you are well on your way.  The easiest way to avoid being the Best Player is to simply play Magic.  Most groups don’t have a Best Player, but instead have a selection of players with similar talent.  Just play your game and you won’t have to worry about being labeled as the Best Player.  If you can see yourself beginning to dominate an inordinate number of games, perhaps it is time to limit your plays to ensure you are able to control the strongest person at the table, but never appear to be the strongest person at the table.  Just because you can play your Primeval Titan before anyone else can put a creature on the board doesn’t mean you should do it. 

I’m also not saying that you can only be a reactive player.  You can be a proactive player and still avoid being the Best Player, but you have to be aware that if you are the dominant player in most of the games, you are risking being stuck with the Best Player label.  This is much easier to avoid than to get rid of once you already have it, so take care!   

But I already am the Best Player

So finally, I get to Razjah’s issue:  he already is the Best Player.  What can you do about it?

Physical Solution

Razjah is lucky enough to be in a larger group that breaks into smaller tables.  This allows him to stack the tables if he chooses.  Pick the better players in the group and put them all at one table.  Perhaps your resonance as Best Player in your group would not ring so loudly if all the other good players were playing in the same game? 

Another option is to set up mini, casual tournaments.  Put everyone at random tables, then set the winners up against each other at one table.  You get the same effect as the earlier suggestion, without labeling the rest of the group as weaker players. 

Deckbuilding Solution

There are really two solutions as far as deckbuilding goes, and each is dependent on your playstyle.  If you are a proactive player, Abe Sargent suggested you build your decks based on the assumption that everyone is out to get you.  This is certainly an option but not one that I would recommend.  Following this route just means that you are going to play every Magic game as though it were an Archenemy game.  That gets boring fast, and not just for you.  How do you think your opponents feel, being constantly reminded that they have to kill you first before they can think about enjoying a game.  I’ve heard the argument that they should just build better decks, but that is crap too.  Many people playing casual Magic simply don’t have the time, the money, or the inclination to build better decks.  For many players, Magic is a night to relax and not think about work.  If it isn’t fun, they won’t continue playing.  You risk being the Best Player in a group of one.

A second solution is to ramp down your decks and prepare to lose.  Any solution that involves you no longer being the Best Player in your group will demand that you stop winning, at least for a while.  Start playing bad theme decks and trying to maximize bad cards.  Keep trying to be the best, but find ways to handicap yourself that aren’t completely obvious to the group.  You will lose far more often, but your wins will be sweeter and eventually you won’t have to face the constant early attacks that make no sense.

In-game Solution

You can try explaining who the real threat on the board is.  This solution is pretty dangerous, since you are the Best Player and it will mostly likely come off as misdirection and people will ignore it.  However, if you are consistently correct with your assessment, it could push people in the right direction.  You will want to explain why you think someone else is the real threat, and you’ll want to do it in a way that doesn’t make you sound like you are whining.  Following up your assessment with an “I told you so” after the game is probably not the best suggestion either. 

In fact, the best way to make this solution work is to apply it when you have already been eliminated.  This eliminates your ulterior motive of trying to win and shows everyone that you are willing to share your accurate threat assessment.  This is a very difficult solution to pull off and I don’t recommend this to most.

Groupbuilding Solution

There are things you can do with your group to limit the Best Player Syndrome.  The most important is to stop saying anything about being attacked unfairly.  Let’s be honest here; if you are suffering from Best Player Syndrome, then you believe that you are being treated unfairly.  You have probably complained about it.  I know that I have made complaints when I felt I was being treated unfairly.  I distinctly remember saying in an exasperated voice, “again!?  But I only have lands out!  I am not the threat!” This will only come off as whining and will only encourage people to try to take you out even more. 

If you are the best player, step up and be the best player.  Be sportsmanlike in the face of unfair attacks.  Applaud good plays in such a way that you aren’t denigrating bad plays.  “There, finally you made the right play!” is not helpful.  Dump your ego, even if you believe you truly are the best player.  No one wants to be reminded of it and you are better off not reminding your group either.

Offer to help the newer players in your group.  If they truly see you as a better player, many players would love to have you look at their decks and make constructive suggestions.  As their decks get better, your decks can get closer to what they once were and you will not be drawing fire from everyone in the group like you were before. 

When offering this help, take each player’s situation into account.  If they are broke, don’t suggest expensive cards to fix problems in the deck.  If they are limited for time, don’t suggest full remakes of their decks.  If they are just there to have a good time, make sure your suggestions not only help, but make the deck more fun to play. 


Razjah, I hoped I could help you and others suffering from BPS.  Please tune in on Monday when Daryl will offer alternative solutions.

Bruce Richard

[i] Don’t try to read this to your friend; I’m sure it is confusing enough just for you!

[ii] Heheh.  My article, my pretend names!


About Windborn Muse

If you seek limited or constructed tournament knowledge, wrapped up with excellent comedic writing, you are in the wrong place. Planted firmly at the kitchen table, Bruce (the Windborn Muse) is all things casual, focusing primarily on strategies for multiplayer games wrapped up with horrific, train wreck attempts at humour. Bruce is married to an extremely tolerant woman and has three children who will not go near him in public. In real life Bruce works as an attorney and lives just outside Boston.
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7 Responses to Windborn Musings – Best Player Syndrome, When the BP is not the BP, Part 1

  1. Razjah says:

    I like some of the tips here.

    Not to sound like I am bragging, but most of my group does consult me for deckbuilding advice. We have about 5 players that are our better players, the newer players frequent us for advice. It is interesting to see the hierarchy here. The newer players tend to the go from number 5 to number 1 on asking for help with a deck. I am the group’s best player and Best Player so when the others come to me for advice, I override the other 4. Do other groups have a similar hierarchy?

    Now to question a point. My group regulars have talked about stacking the tables. We have even tried this. The problem is that it turns the night into a league. We have top tables and bottom tables. As players win more they move up tables and then lose more. They adapt and move up. That would be what we would hope would work.

    Instead the less experience players stagnate. They create alliances and vendettas that run through weeks. They attack Susie because five weeks ago she won a single game. She has not won since and even though most have backed down, one still attacks here every single game. She has no chance because Frank decided to kill her every game.

    We have found that when there are not more experienced players at a table, the group tends to stagnate and not learn. They do not improve deckbuilding, threat assessment, or other strategies. Randomizing the tables helps educate the newer players, in my experience at least.

    • Graveborn Muse says:

      Your example of Susie and Frank is illustrative – I’ll have more to say on Monday, but I would generally be careful of words like “every” or “always,” and I would be even more careful about ascribing motives to him. I doubt he’d call her the best player in the group, and would like to see if he actually considered her the best player at a given table – maybe it has nothing to do with BPS or bpS or anything of that nature. He may have other motives, at one or more of the 3 levels, for his alleged behavior. For all we know, he has a crush on her and is trying to get her attention! (Young guys do stupid things like that to girls they like; I know whereof I speak (Sorry Pippa!))
      The important question to ask about that dynamic, and again, I’ll deal with this more on Monday, is not “Does Frank always kill Susie?”, but rather “Does Frank always win the games in which he goes after Susie first?”

  2. Razjah says:

    Frank says every time he attacks Susie that it is because of that game weeks ago. She is rarely the threat, and I have not seen him attack anyone else as long as she is still in the game. It sounds like an exaggeration, but this is the type of problems we have when the tables are not randomized.

    The worst part of watching Frank vs. Susie is that neither wins. Frank will purposefully throw away games to make sure Susie has no chance. The one or two players send a decent attack at Frank and he is the second player to die.

    • Graveborn Muse says:

      That’s exactly what I expected…
      Are Frank and Susie their real names? If so, could you please ask them if they would mind me addressing this in my next article? There seems to be a lot more going on here, and more ways to deal with it, than a message board can support. I started writing a reply and got several hundred words into it before addressing solutions, so an article seems like the best way.

      • Razjah says:

        This reply is long, but I want to give you all the information that I can.

        No, Frank and Susie are not their real names. I’m sorry I didn’t see this sooner, I haven’t been online in the past few days. I saw that your post is up for BPS, but if you address it again, feel free to go into this problem.

        We have a couple other players in Frank and Susie situations. Some of the better players are starting to enjoy the vendettas among the newer players. The newer players wear each other out leaving only one or two players to focus on the real threat. This tends to let the better players win more games than they should.

        The new players also approach better players with fear. I know that I am rarely attacked with a comments that are basically, “He always have an answer or just kill them on my turn so it isn’t worth attacking him.” I think that it could be an uncomfortable move for some of the new players. They are used to playing with the same group using the same decks. Here they can argue and get removal spells pointed in other directions by yelling, bullying, and swearing blood feuds.

        In the large groups, the more experienced players don’t give a damn about a blood feud. If I always have to kill Bob to win, then I will just take him out early and continue on the path of destruction until I die or wipe the table. The new players can’t bully me, I take them out. They can’t argue with me not to attack someone/ target something/ wipe the board/ etc because I typically know what to do to maximize my chances of winning (some games are just crazy).

        This could be what is leading the new players to stick to their old ways and do the same things they always do, but with much more focus. Frank can’t yell at the same group of him, Susie, Roger, Bob, and Danielle. But whenever he is with Susie he can still apply the vendetta behavior as a coping device. If Bob and Roger are in the same game they may always go after each other, even if Todd is dropping people every turn, because this keeps their games comfortable. I am not sure if this logic is where they are going, but it gives me something to think about for this week.

    • Graveborn Muse says:
  3. Pingback: Graveborn Musings—BPS, BTS and the Usual BS | Muse Vessel

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